AT&T reportedly played major role building, funding far-right channel One America News
Far-right media outlet One America News Network, known for promoting conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and the 2020 presidential election, would likely not exist without the support and funding from telecom giant AT&T — whose executives reportedly came up with the idea of starting the channel.
The world’s largest communications company has poured tens of thousands of dollars into OAN since the network’s launching in 2013, giving a major boost to an outlet that’s widely considered a propaganda tool for the Republican Party, according to a Reuters investigation out Wednesday. In fact, 90% of OAN’s revenue comes from a contract with AT&T-owned television platforms, which include satellite company DirecTV, the report shows.
The investigation is based on a series of court records, including testimony from OAN founder and chief executive Robert Herring Sr. during a 2019 labor lawsuit deposition involving a former network employee, a case unrelated to AT&T. Herring reportedly told the court he was inspired to launch OAN after meeting with a group of AT&T executives.
“They told us they wanted a conservative network,” he testified. “They only had one, which was Fox News, and they had seven others on the other [left-wing] side. When they said that, I jumped to it and built one.”
The controversial cable channel has become so profitable that Herring reportedly testified he was once offered $250 million for the company, but he refused to sell after the potential buyers failed to come up with the money, raising only $35 million.
“No way I would sell for $35 million,” Herring testified.
The court records reviewed by Reuters also cite an alleged promise by OAN to “cast a positive light” on AT&T during news programs at a time when AT&T was seeking federal approval to acquire DirecTV. In exchange, the report suggests, AT&T would agree to carry OAN on DirecTV.
The Federal Communications Commission approved the acquisition in July 2015.
AT&T has denied making such a deal, telling Reuters that “support for the merger was never a condition of or part of any content agreement.”
Jim Greer, a spokesman for the Dallas-based telecom giant, would not comment on Herring’s testimony about where his company gets its revenue due to confidentiality agreements. Greer defended the company in a short statement shared with the Daily News.
“DIRECTV offers its customers a wide variety of programming, including many news channels that offer viewpoints across the political spectrum, but does not dictate or control programming on the channels. Any suggestion otherwise is wrong,” he wrote.
AT&T also owns WarnerMedia, an entertainment conglomerate that includes CNN, HBO, TBS and TNT.
Herring’s ultraconservative network, also known as OANN, has seen its audience skyrocket in recent years, largely thanks to former President Donald Trump repeatedly touting the channel on social media. OAN’s friendly coverage of Trump and other right-wing figures has helped draw away viewers from fellow conservative stations Fox News and Newsmax.
OAN was temporarily banned from YouTube last year for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic and unproven “miraculous” cures.
It is also the target of a billion-dollar lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems over its coverage of unfounded claims of massive fraud in the 2020 presidential elections. One of the allegations in the suit is that OAN brought on a supposed “expert mathematician” to speak about Dominion’s voting equipment despite him being “a convicted felon with no college degree.”